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Nuclear Thermal Rocket (Ntr) Propulsion: A Proven Game-Changing Technology for Future Human Exploration MissionsThe NTR represents the next evolutionary step in high performance rocket propulsion. It generates high thrust and has a specific impulse (Isp) of approx.900 seconds (s) or more V twice that of today s best chemical rockets. The technology is also proven. During the previous Rover and NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications) nuclear rocket programs, 20 rocket reactors were designed, built and ground tested. These tests demonstrated: (1) a wide range of thrust; (2) high temperature carbide-based nuclear fuel; (3) sustained engine operation; (4) accumulated lifetime; and (5) restart capability V all the requirements needed for a human mission to Mars. Ceramic metal cermet fuel was also pursued, as a backup option. The NTR also has significant growth and evolution potential. Configured as a bimodal system, it can generate electrical power for the spacecraft. Adding an oxygen afterburner nozzle introduces a variable thrust and Isp capability and allows bipropellant operation. In NASA s recent Mars Design Reference Architecture (DRA) 5.0 study, the NTR was selected as the preferred propulsion option because of its proven technology, higher performance, lower launch mass, simple assembly and mission operations. In contrast to other advanced propulsion options, NTP requires no large technology scale-ups. In fact, the smallest engine tested during the Rover program V the 25,000 lbf (25 klbf) Pewee engine is sufficient for human Mars missions when used in a clustered engine arrangement. The Copernicus crewed spacecraft design developed in DRA 5.0 has significant capability and a human exploration strategy is outlined here that uses Copernicus and its key components for precursor near Earth asteroid (NEA) and Mars orbital missions prior to a Mars landing mission. Initially, the basic Copernicus vehicle can enable reusable 1-year round trip human missions to candidate NEAs like 1991 JW and Apophis in the late 2020 s to check out vehicle systems. Afterwards, the Copernicus spacecraft and its 2 key components, now configured as an Earth Return Vehicle / propellant tanker, would be used for a short round trip (approx.18 - 20 months)/short orbital stay (60 days) Mars / Phobos survey mission in 2033 using a split mission approach. The paper also discusses NASA s current Foundational Technology Development activities and its pre-decisional plans for future system-level Technology Demonstrations that include ground testing a small (approx.7.5 klbf) scalable NTR before the decade is out with a flight test shortly thereafter.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Glenn Research Center
Document Type
Conference Paper
Borowski, Stanley K.
(NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH, United States)
McCurdy, David R.
(ASRC Aerospace Corp. United States)
Packard, Thomas W.
(QinetiQ North America United States)
Date Acquired
August 25, 2013
Publication Date
May 22, 2012
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion And Power
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Meeting: Association Aeronautique et Astronautique de France
Location: Washington, DC
Country: United States
Start Date: May 22, 2012
End Date: May 25, 2012
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 279585.04.01.22
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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